Inflammation and stories on Lebanon

The Syrian conflict and ensuing refugee crisis continues to reach new heights, as Lebanon received its one millionth refugee. The nation of about 5 million people is now holding the equivalent of an additional fifth of their population. Resources continue to be strained and worries are raised over a sectarian conflict spreading in the region. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that Lebanon now has the highest refugee population per capita worldwide.

Unfortunately, the refugee influx into Lebanon has left no signs of slowing up. The UNHCR has recorded that the refugee influx has increased exponentially over the course of the conflict and has found that 2,500 new refugees are arriving in Lebanon every day. Until the end of the violence in Syria, it is not known when this crisis can become manageable.

Across all countries, the United Nations has recorded 2.58 million refugees, with extensive populations in Jordan and Turkey as well as Lebanon. The nations of Europe are starting to become more involved in the refugee process, taking some pressure off the limited resources in the Middle East. There remains little talk over peace negotiations between the two sides in the conflict.

World Bank estimates say that Lebanon has lost $2.5 billion in economic activity over the course of the Syrian conflict. As a result of this lost economic activity, 170,000 Lebanese are projected to be driven into poverty by the end of 2014. Meanwhile, 400,000 child refugees are starting to go into public school, but the current infrastructure will be hard-pressed to meet this population’s needs. Lebanese schools have taken in 100,000 refugees, but according to their ability to accept anymore will be “severely limited.”

Some outside groups have attempted to bolster the relief efforts for these refugees. Malala Yousafzai announced efforts to raise $500 million for the education of refugees in Lebanon. Also, the United Nations has appealed for $1.89 billion for this year in efforts to raise awareness. However, that initiative still is trying to get off the ground, as only $242 million has been raised so far.

The struggles of Syrian refugees has been written about extensively, yet, even as one of the most pressing humanitarian crises of the present day, it still seems to have had an underwhelming response from the world at large. Organizations like the Borgen Project encourage and advocate for these refugees but, while the West is beginning efforts to alleviate the refugee crisis, there is still too much being left by the wayside for the Syrian people.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: United Nations, CNN, Forbes
Photo: Flickr

The violence and sectarian clashes emanating from Syria’s three-year long civil war continued to spill over the border into neighboring Lebanon this week, as the death toll from clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the northern port city of Tripoli rose to nearly two dozen. Seven people were killed Friday, bringing the death toll to at least 21 since the sectarian-tinged fighting erupted last week.

Since the conflict broke out in neighboring Syria, there have been on-and-off clashes between residents of Tripoli’s Sunni district of Bab al-Tabanneh (which supports the Sunni insurgents battling the Syrian government) and the Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen (which backs Assad’s Alawite-dominated regime). The latest bout of fighting was sparked on March 21, when gunmen shot and killed a Sunni man who lived in an Alawite neighborhood and had Alawite relatives.

During Friday’s violence four civilians including an elderly man were gunned down by snipers, while eleven others were wounded. About 150 people have been wounded since the latest round of violence between the Sunni and Alawite neighborhoods erupted last week. Three people injured in earlier clashes also died Friday.

The Syrian civil war–which pit rebels from Syria’s Sunni majority against a government controlled by the country’s Alawite minority and supported by Shia Iran–has stoked Sunni-Shia tensions across the Middle East, and particularly in the sectarian tinderboxes of Iraq and Lebanon.

Shia Iran and its Lebanese proxy force Hezbollah have backed Assad, a longtime ally of both Tehran and Hezbollah, while Sunni gulf states and Turkey have supported the Sunni insurgents, buttressing the rebels through the provision of light weapons and cash.

The crackdown on the largely Sunni rebels by Assad’s security forces, who are supported in their campaign by Shia fighters from Hezbollah, Iran and Iraqi militias, has enraged the insurgents’ Sunni brethren in Lebanon and across the region. This anger reached a fever pitch last May, when Hezbollah, or Party of God, openly joined Assad’s campaign to crush the rebellion.

Hezbollah’s overt intervention in the Syrian civil war on the side of Assad’s regime began when the Iranian-backed Shia group sent fighters across the border to help the Syrian government retake the strategic border town of Qusair, which had been under the control of rebel forces since early 2012. Assad’s security forces, aided by Shia fighters from Hezbollah, were able to seize control of Qusair in early June following a three-week battle that enraged the Shia groups’ Sunni opponents in Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria’s sectarian conflict ushered in a violent period in Lebanon, as militant Sunni groups unleashed a wave of bombings against Hezbollah and Shia targets.

– Eric Erdahl

Sources: Reuters, Reuters, BBC, Al Jazeera
Photo: Naharnet

The Syrian conflict has continued for three years at this point and there seems to be little hope that it will be solved anytime soon. The conflict between Russia and the United States over Ukraine puts any future peace conferences in flux, and the attention of the international community has largely shifted to that part of the world. However, for the countries around Syria, the crisis there is still a daily ordeal with Syrian refugees flowing in from the beleaguered nation.

Lebanon has taken the bulk of the masses from Syria. Since the beginning of the conflict almost a million refugees have come into Lebanon and projections have that number going up to 1.5 million by the end of the year if nothing changes. A representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that the influx “is equivalent to 80 million Mexicans arriving in the U.S. in 18 months… the largest per capita recipient of refugees anywhere in the world.” While Lebanon continues to generously take in the refugees, the influx has put a severe strain on the country’s infrastructure.

Studies done by the United Nations have shown that many of the refugees are settling in Lebanon’s poorest regions, where the least amount of assistance can be provided. This has left both the refugees and the Lebanese poor at a disadvantage, with little room for the country to move them.

One potential problem with this influx are tensions existing between the various religious groups in the area. Lebanon has a diverse religious population, but the many Sunni refugees coming in from Syria will upset the balance in Lebanon. With sectarian violence a key part of the Syrian conflict, worries are that tensions could erupt in Lebanon and put more people at a disadvantage.

The United Nations is trying to remedy these problems facing Lebanon. The UNHCR put out a call for $1.9 billion to help refugees in Lebanon, yet the agency still hasn’t come close to meeting that goal. Viral campaigns centered around pictures taken at refugee camps have served to attract notice, it sill has yet to be seen whether the campaigns will bring in more funding for the projects.

Lebanon might be the biggest location for Syrian refugees, but all the countries bordering Syria have been affected by the war. The World Food Program is planning to assist 2.9 million people in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. With 12,000 people coming into Lebanon a week, more help will be needed. The time to act is now, even as the countries of the West may be focused elsewhere.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: United Nations, The Daily Star, McClatchyDC
Photo: AlJazeera America

Despite Lebanon’s location in the Middle East, the nation is considered relatively liberal in terms of a woman’s ability to dress how she wants, receive an education and make decisions that affect her own body. Lebanon has strict laws against abortions, but regardless it has become a hot spot for women from many different countries wishing to have abortions.

Lebanon takes relationship statuses from religion, meaning that children born out of wedlock are given very little rights. This causes many women to feel the need to choose between having a child without rights or having an abortion.

In 2012, morning-after pills were legal in the country, but were taken off of shelves in over 20 pharmacies for reasons on which pharmacists would not comment.

Sandrine Atallah, the first sexologist in Lebanon, believes that if there were sexual education programs then there would be fewer abortions. In fact, there have been improvements in a woman’s ability to receive a general education in Lebanon, and with this, women are becoming exponentially more valuable in the workforce. However, many single and unmarried women, like Youmna (name changed), feel the only option they have when they get pregnant is to get an abortion.

According to Youmna, her abortion cost upwards of $500 and she was forced to ask her friends to lend her money. “The clinic was located in a poor neighborhood of Beirut. The only way you could tell it was a clinic was by the paper sign on the door,” said Youmna. Her friend told her after the operation that the doctor put the fetus in a Chivas bottle and then proceeded to toss it in the sink. He later hit on her through phone calls.

In Lebanon women are only allowed to have abortions to keep a woman from dying. One Beirut gynecologist stated that approximately 40% of his patients seeking abortions are traveling from other Middle Eastern countries.

The lack of options for women in these situations is creating a reliance upon desperate measures. Many women are resorting to dangerous drugs that may have the side effect of inducing miscarriages, and many are resorting to risky abortions in order to take back control of their bodies.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: Deutsche Welle, Women and Education in Lebanon, Lebanon Daily News, Executive Magazine
Photo: Now

Tripoli, Lebanon, a city that prides itself as an intellectual hub of the world, suffered devastating losses in early January when unknown arsonists set fire to a valued library, destroying two thirds of its contents. Saeh Library, translated as “Travelers Library,” contained over 80,000 rare religious and philosophical texts, which some speculate may have been the motivation behind the attacks.

Tripoli has a starkly divided demographic of Christian, Sunni, and Shi’ite inhabitants among several other religions prominent in the area. Father Ibrahim Sarouja, the Greek Orthodox priest who is the library’s founder, is well known and loved in the community for preaching religious tolerance and harmony between neighbors.

An unknown security source reported to authorities that the fire was started in direct response to an anti-Islamic pamphlet found in one of the library’s book, which allegedly took a derogatory stance towards the prophet Muhammad. This would make the fire another tragic instance of sectarian violence that already plagues Lebanon.

The book burning has received significant outreach from Tripoli’s Muslim community, however. Salafist cleric Sheik Salem Rafei stated, “Islam denounces any unjust act against anyone,” and was highly critical of the attack. Many other Muslim leaders in the city, who have also spoken against the attack, share his opinion and are willing to do whatever political measure is necessary to make amends.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, also condemned the arson, exclaiming, “We denounce the burning of the library and reject any harm being done to Tripoli and its people, as it has been, and will remain, the city of the world and of intellectuals.”

Sarouja has found the communal response to the fire overwhelmingly up-lifting. Hundreds have come out to assist with clean up efforts and donate books to refurbish the library. Since January, $25,000 has been raised through online crowd-funding. The expected amount required to repair and replace what has been lost is $35,000.

To quote the priest, “(It was) a great source of joy for me that the burning of this library brought together Muslims and Christians, and especially clergy and Muslim sheiks.”

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Los Angeles Times, NPR, Huffington Post
Photo: CNN

CNN reports that the U.S. only accepted 30,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year. Over the past three years, civil war has claimed the lives of 50,000 Syrians and produced 2.3 million refugees, half of them children.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees wants to settle 30,000 of these people this year.

Yet, in the past, the United States has led the world in resettlement and humanitarian efforts.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said that the United States’ overly broad immigration bars are preventing Syrian refugees from taking asylum here — approximately 135,000 refugees have applied for asylum in the U.S.

The small nations surrounding Syria have welcomed refugees. Lebanon and Jordan began accepting refugees early on with individual families taking friends, family members and even strangers into their homes. Refugee camps were later built to house Syrians.

Lebanon has taken in more than 860,000 asylum seekers, more than 20% of its entire population. The town of Arsal, with a population of only 35,000, had taken in 19,000 refugees when it received an additional 20,000 in November.

Some 700,000 Syrian refugees are residing in Turkey. While 200,000 of these are being housed in 21 refugee camps, the remainder have found shelter in towns and cities.

While these countries have been generous, they do not have the space or resources to house this number of refugees and are beginning to see a rise in social and economic tensions. Schools and hospitals are running out of space and incomes have been dropping as residents compete for work.

The U.S. Department of State and USAID have been major sources of funding for humanitarian programs, providing basic necessities such as food, water, tents and medical supplies.

The United States has provided $300 million to Jordan since 2012. It has helped the country to expand its social services to be able to house Syrian refugees, for example 5 schools were built and 62 others were expanded.

However the U.S. is still lagging behind other countries in resettlement. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war only 90 Syrians have found asylum in the United States. In contrast, Sweden has accepted 14,700 refugees and Germany has accepted 18,000.

Both Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Lindsay Graham are pushing for immigration reform that will allow for the acceptance of more Syrian refugees into the U.S.

– Elizabeth Brown

Sources: CNN, U.S. Department of State, U.S. News, Think Progress
Photo: UN News Centre

syria war
There are now over two million Syrians registered as refugees with the UNHCR. The vast majority of the refugees have fled to neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. The massive influx of people has caused tensions between the residents of the countries and refugees trying to escape conflict. Many Syrian refugees are fleeing their war torn country with little to no items, hoping to start over in a new country. Citizens in many countries have been less than welcoming to refugees due to overstretched resources and inadequate aid from other countries.

The locals have grown wary of being outnumbered by so many refugees. They are not eager to let them establish roots in an area that cannot accommodate more people staying there permanently. In addition to limited resources, there are political and ethnic sensitivities that add to the strain between residents and refugees.

Lebanon has received over 800,000 refugees as of December. Lebanon is a small country west of Syria that is roughly the size of Delaware. Resources were already stretched providing for Lebanon’s four million citizens and the past two years have brought a 20% population increase from refugees alone. In November 2013, the first refugee camp was opened on the border of Syria and Lebanon to accommodate the influx of refugees pushed out of Syria by increased fighting in the area. In the area surrounding the camp, refugees greatly outnumber the locals living in the area. In one case, an informal camp that housed seasonal Syrian migrant workers for years before the civil war, was burned to the ground.

Tensions rose when the landlords who owned the land the camp was built on, ordered the occupants to leave and gave them a 24-hour deadline. The villagers claimed refugees staying in the camp assaulted a local disabled man and returned before the 24 hours were up with Molotov cocktails, quickly igniting the camp. The mayor of the village claimed the fire started due to infighting between the residents in the camp. A local doctor concluded there was no evidence of an assault and the Syrian Opposition Coalition, working to remove Assad from office, called the eviction of the camp “inhumane and unethical.”

Jordan borders Syria to the south. Six million people live in Jordan and approximately 500,000 Syrians refugees have entered the country. Like Lebanon, resources in Jordan are already stretched thin and the massive influx of refugees is causing further strain and tension. In an interview with the New York Times, Syrian refugee Noman Sarhan said Jordanians tend to lump Syrians together into one group and blame them for many of the country’s issues. Sarhan came to Jordan 2012 and started a business in the city of Mafraq, but is still looked at as a refugee.

Many Syrian refugees entering Jordan have opted to move into cities rather than stay in camps. Moving into cities allows newcomers a better chance to get a job or establish a business similar to one they had in Syria. Syrians moving in and getting jobs starting business sometimes comes at the expense of a Jordanian, causing discord between the hosts and the refugees. Refugees and government officials fear that unless conditions drastically improve, they will continue to face hostility from residents in their host country.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: New York Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Post

In 2006, The Pew Global Attitudes Project poll revealed that 79 percent of Lebanese people thought that homosexuality “should be rejected.” Such a high percentage can be considered as quite high by some western and more liberal regional standards (Israel and Turkey were in the 50 percent rejection range.) Compared to more conservative Middle Eastern countries, however, Lebanon is considered to be more progressive concerning the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens.

In Egypt’s Pew research poll only one percent of people said that homosexuality should be accepted. On the other hand, however, in other countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, a gay person can be jailed, lashed, or put to death.

More liberal attitudes on homosexuality are largely associated with Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, where there is an underground, but lively gay culture.

It is in Beirut that Helem became the Arab world’s first LGBT advocacy group in 2001 and continues to this day, to be a powerful force against homophobia and abuse. Their stated primary goal is to rid Lebanon of Article 534, which outlaws “unnatural sexual intercourse.”

Though the law is not commonly used against homosexuals (a landmark 2009 ruling stated that Article 534 did not pertain to them), the wording of the law still provides justification for action to be taken against LGBT individuals within the safety of a vague legal framework.

Police took such action in July 2012, raiding a movie theater after a television show called it a “gay house.” They arrested 36 people, who were subsequently subjected to anal exams to allegedly confirm or deny their homosexuality. Even a doctor who performed the exams bluntly stated, “These tests prove absolutely nothing.”

Following the 2012 cinema raid, Lebanon’s Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi told the British Broadcasting Corporation, “From a humanitarian point of view, this is totally unacceptable.” He said he asked the Prosecutor General for clarification on laws concerning homosexuality and anal tests. All that resulted, however, was a memorandum calling for “restraint.”

In April 2013, the police force raided a LGBT bar in Dekwaneh, a conservative town near Beirut, and arrested several patrons. Those taken into custody were stripped and photographed, reportedly so the police could accurately identify their sex.

The Interior Minister of Lebanon’s interim government lauded the 2013 bar raid, and reiterated, “Lebanon is opposed to homosexuality.”

Calling anal exams “acts of shame,” Human Rights Watch reported the story of “Nadim,” who was initially arrested for suspicion that his brother sold drugs. However, when officers found phone numbers of known gay men in his phone, they physically and emotionally tortured him, forced him to sign a confession of his homosexuality, and subjected him to an anal exam.

At the same time, the Lebanese Psychological Association was the first in the Arab world to declare in July 2013 that homosexuality is not a disease. It stated, “Homosexuality in itself does not cause any defect in judgment, stability, reliability or social and professional abilities.” The association also criticized the practice of gay conversion therapy as scientifically baseless.

The Lebanese Broadcast Company reported a scathing criticism of the 2012 cinema raid, calling Lebanon “the republic of shame.” Citizens also took to social media to express their outrage—on both sides—about a topic not typically discussed openly.

With reports from October 2013, concerning the Beirut International Film Festival, banned the French gay love story “Stranger by the Lake” due to “obscene scenes of kissing between gay men…naked men, and sexual intercourse between men,” it is unclear what the future is for LGBT rights in Lebanon.

When asked by the BBC about Article 534, Justice Minister Qortbawi stated, “The law is a mirror of a society. And I think we need a lot of time before we get that far.”

– Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: Bekhsoos, Irin, BBC: End to Anal Exams, Huffington Post, The Daily Star, Y Net News, Raw Story, Reuters, BBC: Gay-Friendly Reputation Challenged, The Guardian